The band of silver paleness along the east horizon made even the
distant parts of the Great Plain appear dark and near; and the whole
enormous landscape bore that impress of reserve, taciturnity, and
hesitation which is usual just before day. The eastward pillars and their
architraves stood up blackly against the light and the great flame-shaped
Sun-stone beyond them; and the Stone of Sacrifice midway. Presently the
night wind died out, and the quivering little pools in the cup-like
hollows of the stones lay still
Thomas Hardy, The Wessex Novels, vol. I, Tess of the
D'Urbervilles (1891), 5th ed. 1896
Megaliths thousands of years old rise up against
the southern English sky near Ames-bury in Wiltshire. Who erected them?
Did human sacrifice take place here? Was the legendary sorcerer Merlin at
The dressed sandstone megaliths erected to form a
lintelled stone circle are approximately six metres high, some of them
weighing up to forty-five tonnes. Standing on wind-swept Salisbury Plain,
this mysterious monument to a world long forgotten was first called a
"wonder of Britain" in the twelfth century. Since then, not a century has
passed without fresh conjectures on what might have led to the building of
this unique henge monument.
The Romantics were expounding lofty theories about
Stonehenge when the great English landscape painter John Constable painted
his famous watercolour of it based on the numerous preliminary sketches he
had made on a visit in 1820. Even today the meaning of the circle of
thirty uprights, some of which are still capped by massive lintels,
surrounding a horseshoe arrangement of five trilithons (two upright stones
connected by a lintel), is as much a mystery as ever. Archaeologists tend
to believe that religious motives led to the erection of Stonehenge. In
the cold grey light of dawn, the site with its towering megaliths is a
menacing, almost apocalyptic place. With the sun's first rays, the
uprights cast shadows forming eerie linear patterns on the ground. One
legend has it that the power of the Druids was concentrated where the
Thought to have been Celtic priests, Druids were
intermediaries between the gods and humankind, soothsayers, healers and
judges, and, as tutors to the sons of the aristocracy, were allegedly the
real rulers of the ancient Britons. Unfortunately, however, Latin accounts
of the Druids fail to shed much light
on these structures.
Opponents of the theory that the Druids officiated at Stonehenge point out
that the Wiltshire stone circle had already been standing for over 2,000
years before the heyday of the Celts and the Druids (100 ВС—AD 78).
Besides, the latter are not known to have built temples. Instead, they
held their ceremonies in glades. Knowledge of the stars may have been
passed down by oral tradition to the Druids, who were wiped out by the
Romans on Anglesey in the year 78.
One thing is certain: the people who built Stonehenge
demonstrated a knowledge of astronomy. The original approach to the site
is marked by a stone over which, when viewed from the centre of the
circle, the sun rises on the Summer Solstice.
The stone circle is ringed by fifty-six pits.
Radiocarbon dating of one of these as well as pottery finds indicate that
the earliest structure on the site dates back to late Neolithic times
(roughly 2,300 ВС). Whatever Stonehenge may have been, the site was more
or less in continual use for thousands of years. Speculation on this most
enthralling puzzle of all ancient monuments continues to abound today.